18th-century handwriting tools

Quill pen – feather used for writing, often a goose or turkey feather

Pen knife – for trimming and sharpening the quill

Ink / ink powder (to be mixed with water) – often made with oak galls, tannic acid, and gum arabic

Inkwell – container for ink, usually with a lip and a broad and heavy base to prevent drips or spillage

Paper – in the 18th century, made from linen or cotton rags; sometimes sized (treated with gelatin) to prevent the absorbtion of ink

Pounce – powder made from cuttlefish bone or sand, sometimes mixed with rosin, used as a blotter to prevent ink from bleeding on or through paper


Poetic hints for handwriting, 1757

All Letter ev’n at Head and Feet must stand;

Bear lightly on thy Pen, and keep a steady Hand.

Carefully mind to end in every Line.

Down Strokes make black, and upward Strokes make fine.

Enlarge thy Writing if it be too small.

Full in Proportion make thy Letters all,

Game not in School-time, when thou ought’st to write,

Hold in thy Elbow; and sit fair to th’Light.

Join all thy letters with a fine Hair-stroke.

Keep free from Blots thy Piece and Writing-Book.

Learn the Command of Hand by frequent Use:

Much Practice doth to Penmanship conduce.

Never deny the lower Boys Assistance:

Observe from Word to Word an equal Distance.

Provide thy self with All things necessary:

Quarrel thou not in School tho’ others dare thee.

Rule straight thy Lines, be sure to rule them fine;

Set Stems of Letters fair above the Line.

The Heads above the Stem, the Tails below.

Use Pounce to Paper, if the Ink go thro’,

View well thy Piece: compare how much thou’st mended;

Wipe clean thy Pen, when all thy Task is ended.

Young Men your Spelling mind; write each word true and well;

Zealously strive your Fellow to excel.

From The Youth’s Instructor in the English Tongue: Or, The Art of Spelling Improved... Collected from Dixon, Bailey, Owen, Strong and Watts (Boston: J. Green and J. Russell, for D. Henchman, 1757), p. 60; reproduced in Monaghan, Jennifer E. Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America: Literacy Instruction and Acquisition in a Cultural Context. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005. http://muse.jhu.edu.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/book/4364